WB decides it's time for skein to fly away

This article was updated at 2:52 p.m. on Feb. 15, 2004.

HOLLYWOOD — This “Angel” has gone to heaven.

The WB has opted not to renew the Joss Whedon-produced drama “Angel” for a sixth season. Frog topper Jordan Levin informed Whedon of the decision to cancel the skein Thursday night.

Move on the surface is a head-scratcher. Twentieth Century Fox TV-produced skein is the net’s second highest-rated hour among viewers 18-34 (behind lead-in “Smallville”) and fourth among auds 12-34. Its numbers have been solid this year, even against brutal competish on Wednesday night and in a year in which the WB is experiencing double-digit Nielsen declines.

But Frog execs are also facing the reality of an aging sked, with skeins such as “Charmed,” “7th Heaven” and “Gilmore Girls” potentially facing final seasons next year.

Levin also said the rapidly changing economics of network television played a big role in the decision to end “Angel.” Skein doesn’t repeat well, and Levin anticipates having to double run one or more dramas in primetime next season — as well as add more reality programs to the Frog’s mix.

“We have a lot of veteran shows that are aging, and we’re going to have to make room for new programs,” Levin said. “I know this will make lots of fans unhappy. But we have to have more at-bats, and we need to create timeslots where we can repeat shows (the same week episodes premiere.)”

“This isn’t about the WB bailing out on one of its top shows,” Levin added. “The show had a loyal core following, but it didn’t have a tremendous amount of new audience upside.”

All parties involved said the cost of the show itself was not the central factor in the decision to cancel “Angel.” The WB made waves three years ago when it decided to part ways with Whedon’s “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” after a squabble with 20th over its license fee.

Whedon said that while he understands the business part of the decision, he’s nonetheless “heartbroken.”

“I thought that if a show was really good and doing really well (in the ratings), it was renewed,” scribe said. “I was apparently misinformed.”

Whatever the intricacies of the Frog’s business model, Whedon said the decision to axe “Angel” doesn’t seem logical.

“I do understand the business of it,” he said. “But to me, when they’re scrambling to hold on to their audience, their revenue, their dignity, it doesn’t seem the best decision. And it’s certainly not the classiest.”

“If there’s no place for quality in the equation, I don’t know why we’re here,” Whedon added.

Dana Walden, prexy of 20th, said she understands the WB’s point of view, even if she’s disappointed by the net’s decision.

“I can see their perspective. Jordan has been very honest about the decision-making process,” Walden said. “(But) when a show works on your air, you have to find ways to keep it there. Shame on all of us for not finding a way…. There are a lot of disappointed fans.”

Levin said he and Whedon started talking about the show’s future a few weeks ago, right around the time of the show’s 100th episode party. Conversations about the changing state of the TV business left open the possibility that “Angel” — despite its creative and ratings strength — might not be a slam-dunk to return.

“He said he wanted to protect his cast and crew, and asked if I could let them know sooner rather than later,” Levin said. “These are usually decisions you wait until the last minute to make. But after ‘Dawson’s Creek,’ I saw how important closure was for a cast, and given Joss’ request, I owed him (an early decision.) It was a very bittersweet parting and an end of an era for us,” Levin added. “I have the ultimate respect for Joss as someone who created two landmark series and stood behind them the whole time.”

Because ratings and reviews have been solid for “Angel” this season, Whedon said his cast and crew were “stunned” when he broke the news to them Friday. “Nobody saw this coming,” he said.

On the positive side, with casting season just heating up, the show’s thesps will now have time to line up projects for next season.

Whedon said he and “Angel” exec producer-showrunner Jeff Bell have already mapped out the series finale, which Bell is slated to helm. Whedon continues to explore the possibility of a feature based on his short-lived Fox skein “Firefly.”

As for “Angel,” Whedon said he was glad the show passed the 100 episode milestone, and grateful to Walden and 20th prexy Gary Newman for their support during a two-year frame that saw the natural end of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Firefly” and now the end of “Angel.”

While there’s already talk of some “Angel” telepics, Whedon said it’s too soon for him to imagine such a possibility.

“All we have left on ‘Angel’ is to end the season with episodes as strong and meaningful as we can muster,” Whedon said. “But then, we were going to do that anyway.”

“Angel,” which starred David Boreanaz as a vampire with a soul, was created by Whedon and David Greenwalt.

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